Skip to comments.Sandstorm may have caused fatal Army helicopter crash
Posted on 02/26/2003 4:34:30 PM PST by LBGA
Pentagon officials said Tuesday a fierce sandstorm in Kuwait might have caused the fatal crash of an Army helicopter.
The UH60 Black Hawk went down about 1 a.m. Tuesday Kuwait time some 30 miles northwest of Kuwait City, where night training exercises were under way. The Army says the cause of the crash is under investigation, but strong winds and blinding sand were reported in the area overnight.
The Pentagon identified those killed Tuesday as Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza, 26, of Texas; Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Moehling, 35, of Florida; Chief Warrant Officer John Smith, 32, of Nevada; and Spec. William Tracy, 27, of New Hampshire.
The helicopter was part of the 158th Aviation Regiment, 5th Battalion, of the 12th Aviation Brigade based in Giebelstadt, Germany.
The group is attached to V Corps' 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment, which is part of some 9,000 troops from the corps deployed as part of the recent U.S. buildup.
The accident highlights the difficulties of engaging in combat in a region renowned for its intense heat, ubiquitous sand and unpredictable winds. During Operation Desert Storm, sand and sweat were far worse adversaries than the Iraqi army for most GIs.
Tuesday's crash came almost 12 years to the day after a Feb. 21, 1991, accident during Operation Desert Storm in which seven troops died when their Black Hawk crashed during a sudden Saudi storm.
Even before the latest accident, U.S. troops now assembling in the region were bracing for the climate changes that accelerate in March and April. The Iraqi desert heats up to triple-digit temperatures and 60-mph dust maelstroms form. That is currently seen as the most likely timeframe for a U.S. attack on Iraq.
Although acknowledging the challenges of desert warfare, the Pentagon does not count weather as an unduly dangerous constraint.
Most military experts believe any war with Iraq would be intense but brief, with most of the fighting over in a month, if not far sooner. But if combat stretched into the hotter months, GIs would still be able to fight well, military leaders and analysts say.
"Many battles have been fought in the heat of summer," Secretary of State Colin Powell, the nation's top military leader during the 1991 Gulf war, said recently.
Anthony Cordesman, military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, agreed, saying the notion that U.S. troops would be significantly impaired is "militarily ridiculous."
The Associated Press
Family members mourned Chief Warrant Officer Timothy W. Moehling, who died in a Blackhawk helicopter crash in the Kuwaiti desert during a night training mission.
Moehling, 35, died Tuesday with three other crew members in the crash near Camp New Jersey, about 30 miles northwest of Kuwait City. The Kuwaiti military said sandstorms were reported in the area at the time the chopper went down.
"We're heart sick," said Nancy Moehling, the soldier's mother. "Timothy loved to fly. He used to fly kites on the beach. He died doing what he loved."
Nancy Moehling said her son told his family he was ordered to fly missions in Kuwait that were "too dangerous" in his opinion. She said he promised to follow his orders, but not without question.
The aircraft, which belonged to the Army's V Corps, was part of the force that has massed in the Persian Gulf emirate for a possible invasion of Iraq.
Moehling, a husband and father of three, is the second graduate of Mosley High School in Panama City to die in a Blackhawk helicopter crash in less than three months.
U.S. Army Spc. Luke DeGroff, 22, died Dec. 11 when a chopper crashed in the hills of central Honduras near Santa Cruz de Yojoa, killing all five crew members.
Wayne Moehling, the soldier's father, was also a pilot and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. He taught his teenage son to fly a Cessna 172, Nancy Moehling said.
Timothy Moehling graduated from Florida State University's Panama City campus in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in social science. He joined the Army after graduation and became an instructor pilot.
The helicopter was part of the 158th Aviation Regiment, 5th Battalion, of the 12th Aviation Brigade based in Giebelstadt, Germany. The group is attached to V Corps' 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment, which is part of some 9,000 troops from the corps deployed as part of the recent U.S. buildup.
Moehling and his wife Lisa had lived in Germany for the past two years with their children: Alex, 5; Sarah, 3; and Noah, 1. The family plans to return to the states, Nancy Moehling said.
"Just before he left for Kuwait, his little 5-year-old son reached up and touched him on the cheek and said, 'Daddy, you're the best,'" Nancy Moehling said.
S.A. Soldier Killed In Kuwait Chopper Crash
Gonzalez Came From Military Family
Posted: 7:24 a.m. CST February 26, 2003
SAN ANTONIO -- A San Antonio family is mourning the loss of one of four Army soldiers killed in the crash of a U.S. Army helicopter.
Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez, 26, of San Antonio had been in Kuwait for three weeks, the San Antonio Express-News reported in Wednesday's editions. He was killed with three other soldiers Tuesday when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed during night training in the Kuwait desert.
The aircraft, which belonged to the Army's V Corps, was part of the force that has massed in this Persian Gulf emirate for a possible invasion of Iraq.
Tuesday night, members of Gonzalez's family gathered in the front yard of their home on San Antonio's West Side.
"I loved him. I love him," said his tearful father, Ramiro Gonzalez Sr. "What happened hurts. There are no words for this.
"I can't say what is just or what isn't," he said. "You can't hold the government accountable for what happened."
The dead soldier, who was single, came from a family rooted in the military service, the newspaper reported. His twin brother, Ricardo, is an Army combat medic stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. Their older brother, Ramiro Jr., 29, is an Army recruiter in Laredo. Younger brother, Rolando, 19, is stationed at West Point, N.Y., as an operating room technician.
Rodrigo's sister, Veronica Valadez, 32, is a homemaker in San Antonio. She said she spoke with Rodrigo by phone for about five minutes Friday, just after he'd gotten off duty in Kuwait. He asked her to pass the word around that he was doing fine and to send him a water backpack, boots, chocolate and candies.
"Unfortunately, he never saw them," Valadez said.
Gonzalez was born in Sabinas Hidalgo, in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. A year later, his family moved to San Antonio, where he graduated from Fox Tech High School and joined the Army.
Based in Germany for the last year, Rodrigo Gonzalez was a crew chief on Black Hawk helicopters.
"It was one of the most exciting things he's ever done besides jumping out of perfectly good airplanes," said Ramiro Jr. He said his brother was in the 82nd Airborne Infantry at Fort Bragg, N.C., for five years before being stationed in Germany.
Rodrigo Jr. said he and his brothers all know that "danger is inherited with our job. It's part of our duty. He loved his country, even though he wasn't born here."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.
Mom Says N.H. Soldier Killed In Crash Love To Fly
Four Soldiers Die In Kuwait Accident
POSTED: 7:02 p.m. EST February 26, 2003
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The New Hampshire soldier who was killed aboard an Army Black Hawk helicopter in Kuwait grew up in Weare. He would have turned 28 today.
Army specialist William Tracy's mother said he was a happy-go-lucky guy who loved to fish and always had a fascination with flying.
Tracy and three other crewmembers died Tuesday when their helicopter crashed in the desert.
Tracy's mother, Dianne Childs, lives in Manchester. She said she still hasn't deleted a 2-week-old phone message her son left on her answering machine before he shipped out from Germany. In the message, her son said Childs had no need to worry because he was going to a warm, sunny place.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Here is more info.
Black Hawk battalion remembers fallen friends
By Steve Liewer , Stars and Stripes
European edition, Thursday, February 27, 2003
(More about the four Black Hawk copter crash victims at the bottom of the story.)
CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait -- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tim Moehling should have been sitting in a camp chair puffing on his pipe. Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza should have been cracking people up with his jokes. Chief Warrant Officer 2 J.D. Smith should have been telling rock-climbing stories. And Spc. Will Tracy should have been celebrating his 28th birthday.
Instead, the other soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment stood stiffly at attention inside a hangar Wednesday, blinking back tears as they remembered their fallen friends.
The four men all were killed barely 36 hours earlier, when a sandstorm engulfed their UH-60 Black Hawk about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday as they flew just above the desert floor. The helicopter slammed into the ground moments later.
"We don't know how, or why, this tragic thing happened," said Capt. Martin Kendrick, the battalion's chaplain, during the service. "We can't bring these soldiers back, but we can remember the happy times with them."
Friends say Moehling and Gonzalez loved flying together. They were pilot and crew chief from the unit's Company A in Giebelstadt, Germany. Someone was going to switch Gonzalez to another flight Monday night, but he insisted on sticking with his pilot.
Buddies describe Gonzalez &emdash; known to everyone in the unit as "Gonzo" &emdash; as a talkative joker who kept his tent mates laughing. A bundle of energy, he rarely sat still.
One of his closest friends, Spc. Eric Holmes of Modesto, Calif., said Gonzalez spent lots of time at his home. Gonzo pitched in with the cooking and did the dishes, and the two men would stay up late playing video games.
"He slept in the spare bedroom, which was the baby's room. If the baby would cry during the night, he would just get up and take care of him," Holmes said. "My wife loved him to death."
Moehling devoted every spare moment to his wife and three children. He took them in the family minivan on marathon vacations across Europe.
In camp, he was perpetually laid-back. He preferred sitting in a sauna to physical training. Since arriving in Kuwait in early February, he had earned the nicknames "Puff Daddy" and "Mr. Howell" because he would sit outside his tent in a camp chair, his feet up, wearing a hat and smoking his aromatic pipe.
"He was great to fly with," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Paul Cahill, 34, another Company A pilot. "He was real relaxed all the time."
Smith and Tracy were members of the 5-158 Aviation's Company B, based at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Both had volunteered for duty in Kuwait, and both insisted on staying even after replacements had arrived for them from Germany.
"Both of these guys volunteered to be with you," Company B commander Maj. Chris Speer said at the ceremony. "That speaks volumes about them."
Tracy, in fact, had done six deployments in 3? years with the 5-158 Aviation, extending with the unit last fall so he could move from Germany to Italy. He racked up more than 500 hours as a crew chief, an impressive number for such a short time. He was close to achieving his goal of making sergeant.
"He went out on every single mission," said Capt. Michael Cushwa, 25, a Company C pilot. "He wanted to be there, where the action was."
Smith found some of his action from mountain faces, where he honed his skills as a devoted rock climber. He kept himself in tip-top shape, even by Army standards.
Smith loved his wife and two daughters, and he loved flying. He was a fixed-wing pilot before joining the Army to fly Black Hawks, and had spent some 30 hours in a Boeing 767 flight simulator. He spoke fluent Italian and served as his unit's translator.
Just before his final flight, Smith and Gonzalez played spades with Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sean Davis, 34, and another soldier.
"After the game, he had to go out and get his gear. He was flying," Davis said. Nothing at all seemed amiss. Then he and his crewmates were off on their fateful flight.
Some 300 soldiers from their battalion turned out to hear the tributes. Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the V Corps commander, was among those paying respects.
After hearing the tributes, 1st Sgt. Phillip Webb read the ceremonial roll call, including the absent soldiers. A rifle team fired three volleys in their honor. A bugler played Taps. Senior officers and soldiers alike shared hugs of condolence with the 5-158 Aviation's battalion and company commanders.
"We need to pack our shattered emotions," the chaplain said, "and get on to the task ahead."
The boots, rifles, helmets and patches of four soldiers from the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment who died when a UH-60 Black Hawk crashed this week rest above their photos at Wednesday's memorial service.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Bobby McNeal, right, of the 11th Aviation Regiment &emdash; an attack helicopter pilot since the Vietnam War &emdash; hugs Lt. Col. Pete Franks, commander of the Giebelstadt-based 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, following the memorial service.
Capt. Octavious Gibbons, commander of the 5th Battalion, 158 Aviation Regiment's Alpha Company, eulogizes a soldier from his command who was killed Tuesday in the Black Hawk copter crash.
Col. William Wolf, left, of Task Force 11th Aviation hugs Maj. Chris Speer, Bravo Company commander from the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, following a memorial service Wednesday for four of the battalion's soldiers who died this week in the crash of a UH-60 Black Hawk near Camp Udairi, Kuwait. Two of the men served in Speer's Bravo Company, based in Aviano, Italy.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Timothy W. Moehling
PROFESSIONAL: UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, Giebelstadt, Germany. Instructor pilot, personal pilot to V Corps deputy commanding general.
FAMILY: Wife, Lisa; children, Alex, Sarah and Noah
HOME: Panama City, Fla.
Friends say Moehling was utterly devoted to his family, driving them all over Europe in the family minivan. On nonflying days, they invariably saw him carrying his infant son in a backpack baby carrier. Quiet and unruffled, he smoked a pipe and wore a hat, earning him the nickname "Mr. Howell."
"You could never overtask him. He could handle everything. It was kind of hard not to like him."
-- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shawn Holmes, fellow Black Hawk pilot
Spc. William J. Tracy
PROFESSIONAL: UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief, Aviano Air Base, Italy. Served in Marine Corps before joining Army in 1999. Deployments to Atlas Drop, Tunisia; Flintlock, Mali; Strong Resolve, Norway; Lariat Response, Hungary; Victory Strike III, Poland; Enduring Freedom, Kuwait.
HOME: Manchester, N.H.
Tracy was a soldier to the core, volunteering for every mission. He disliked garrison life and loved deployments, which is why he went on so many missions. He loved to travel and rarely stayed home on weekends. He wanted to be a noncommissioned officer and was just shy of qualifying.
"He was a lover man. Every time we turned around, he had a different girlfriend in a different country."
-- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Javier Gutierrez
Chief Warrant Officer 2 John D. Smith
PROFESSIONAL: UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, Aviano Air Base, Italy. Deployments to Veneto Rescue, Italy; Atlas Drop, Tunisia; Victory Strike III, Poland; and Enduring Freedom, Kuwait.
FAMILY: Wife, Meredith; daughters, Kiara and Madeline.
HOME: Salt Lake City, Utah
Smith loved mountain and rock climbing. He would rise early on Saturdays to climb in a nearby park, returning home in time to play with his daughters &emdash; before his wife even got up. He had served a mission with the Latter Day Saints church in Italy, spoke fluent Italian and had many Italian friends.
"He was a very self-contained person. He was happy by himself. He wrote to his wife every single day."
-- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sean Davis
Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza
PROFESSIONAL: UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief, Giebelstadt, Germany. Joined Army in 1997. Started out as airborne infantryman, later reclassified. Crew chief for V Corps deputy commanding general. Deployments to Victory Strike III, Poland; Enduring Freedom, Kuwait.
HOME: San Antonio.
Known universally as "Gonzo," Gonzalez was popular, funny and well-liked. Loved children. When he stayed at the home of a friend with a small baby, Gonzo would get up during the night to change his diapers or play with him. Loved NASCAR and racing video games.
"You would never get tired of being around him; he was a guy you could count on completely. Gonzo was always in the middle of everything."
-- Spc. Eric Holmes
Well, that congecture could be true. I guess our special forces don't advertise everything they do. Heaven help us if Dan Rather finds out what they are planning.
My son is in special ops. He tells me he might disappear for months on a fishing trip, and he won't be able to tell me, ever, what he has done or where he has been. I, for one am thankful that our special forces' movements aren't broadcast daily.
This could be simply what it appears to be, a training mission near Iraq in which sand storms wrecked havoc with the engines.
Bump this up so Freepers can see the names of our heroes.....Lest we forget.
I think that millitary cuts in the Clinton years have left our equipment without parts that are needed. I know my son talked about scrounging around for parts. His unit had priority and could get parts from another, and then that unit would have to wait for months. We need to fund the military so the equipment is safe, but it does sound like this is a case of bad weather and sand storms.
RIP CWO SmithRIP Spc Tracy
Thank you for this post from the parents of a deployed Blackhawk pilot.
May God bless and comfort their families.
OWF....do you have a bump list?
Devils in Baggy Pants sorrowful bump.